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Pregame primer: Caps winning with and without dynamic duo

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Pregame primer: Caps winning with and without dynamic duo

Shortly after being hired as head coach of the Capitals, Barry Trotz began watching game tapes of the way his new team played in the final 35 games of last season. One game per day was about all that he could digest.

And what stood out to him during those days in front of his TV?

“A very big team, but you didn’t feel like they always played big,” Trotz said. “Size is an asset and I thought we could play better there. I also thought they only wanted to play one way. You’ve got to win games differently and we talked about doing that and creating ourselves an identity.”

Before this season the Capitals’ identity was rooted in their two stars forwards, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But opponents learned a very simple strategy when facing the Caps. You stop Ovechkin and Backstrom, you stop Washington.

“Our record was horrendous, to say the least,” Trotz said. “This year we won many times without either one getting a point.”

He’s right. Before this season the Capitals were 21-61-15 in the regular season and 3-11 in the playoffs in games when when Ovechkin and Backstrom were held without a point.

Under Trotz, the Caps went 11-8-3 in the regular season and are 2-1 in the playoffs when their dynamic duo is held off the scoresheet, including Monday night’s 1-0 win in Game 3 against the Rangers, when Jay Beagle provided the game’s only offense.

“In the first 20 games we were sitting about a game over .500 [9-8-3] and they were saying, ‘When we did this the other way it was a lot easier,’” Trotz recalled. “And then they started winning. We’d get a point every night.”

The Caps finished sixth in the conference and ninth in the league in hits [2,335] and before long, opposing teams began describing them as a tougher team to play against than ever before.

“I would say heavy,” Trotz said when asked to describe his team’s new identity. “We’re a big team so we want to be heavy on the puck. If we can get to you and separate you from the puck we want to do that. And we can skate pretty well, too. Our speed is still in the top third in the league.”

Changes for New York? While there are no personnel changes expected for the Rangers in Game 4, there may be a few different line combinations.

With the top line of Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis struggling to find the back of the net [they’ve combined for one goal in the first three games] coach Alain Vigneault could move Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider or Dominic Moore up in the lineup. Hayes saw some time with the top line in place of St. Louis in the third period of Game 3.

“As a coach you’ve got to do what you feel is best for your team,” Vigneault said, “and if at some point I feel any changes need to be made for the benefit of the team I’ll make them.”

“We’ve had some real good looks,” Vigneault said, referring to the Rangers’ 69 attempts at the net in Game 3, 30 of which were stopped by Caps goalie Braden Holtby. “Our execution has been a fraction of a second off. I’m going to bet that our execution can be better and it has to be better tonight. Everybody understands the importance of tonight’s game and we’re ready for it.” 

MORE CAPITALS: What's with Ovechkin and those smelling salts?

Here are projected lineups for Game 4:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward

Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Tim Gleason – Mike Green

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov

Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]

RANGERS

Forward lines

Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller

Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast

James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi

Marc Staal – Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle – Dan Boyle

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot

Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers

Injuries: Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to www.capfriendly.com.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Checking in on Hershey

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Checking in on Hershey

In the present, the Capitals are the Stanley Cup champions. But what does the future hold?

The voice of the Hershey Bears, Zack Fisch, joins JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir to talk all things prospects!

Who stood out at development camp? How will Pheonix Copley look as backup? Which Hershey prospects could push for a spot in the NHL? All that and more on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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